Perceived Effectiveness of College Programs for Non-Traditional Students by Recent Graduates Literature Review

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Non-Traditional Students

In the 1980s a major switch happened in the culture and population of colleges and universities. Instead of the stereotypical 18-year-old recent high school graduate, the non-traditional student became the norm on campus. Most authorities define a non-traditional student as someone who is over 25 years of age, attends college or university on a part-time basis, commute to school, or any combination of these characteristics. From 1970 to 1985, the growth rate for non-traditional students was 114%, compared to a much smaller increase of 15% in the number of younger, traditional students. Nontraditional students increased over time from one in four undergraduates in 1986 to nearly one in three (31%) in 1992 (Horn and Carroll, 1996). Part-time students have also increased 87%. Full-time students only increased 22% over the same time period. According to a 1991 report, 80% of all students in higher education are commuters and do not live on campus or in campus housing. (Villela & Hu, 1991)

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The increase in non-traditional enrollment in higher education over the past two decades is the result of many different cultural shifts, including an aging population, equal opportunity and access to education, and the increasing existence of educational experiences tailored for the non-traditional student. Women form a large portion of non-traditional students; many of them are taking advantage of the first access to higher education in their lifetime. Older learners are taking advantage of longer life spans and are either going back to school for job fulfillment or learning for the sake of learning and self-actualization. Non-traditional students are either degree seekers, problem solvers, or cultural environment seekers (Noel, 1985). Opportunities for minorities have also increased the enrollment of non-traditional students in colleges and universities. The working world has also experienced a major cultural shift and many occupations, vocations and professions require higher educational achievement than in the past, even for entry level jobs. Higher education has changed many of its models to accommodate this kind of learning.

Literature Review on Perceived Effectiveness of College Programs for Non-Traditional Students by Recent Graduates Assignment

Approximately 68% of non-traditional students matriculate (Villella & Hu, 1991). The difficulties in quantifying this number exactly are in part due to the difficulty of precisely defining who is and who is not a non-traditional student. Is there a typical non-traditional student, and, if so, what does he or she look like? Therefore, the factors that affect whether or not a non-traditional student stays in school vary widely throughout the population. This is a population whose defining characteristics (age, marital and parental status, age, ethnicity) are constantly in flux (Marlow, 1989). Men and women have different experiences and needs; students with children have widely different issues from those without children; single parents have different experiences and needs than married couples or partners with children. Women and men experience different needs. Students with children have very different problems from students without children. Different ethnic groups, while they are often gathered together under the larger tag of "minority" despite the fact that their experiences and educational needs vary widely.

Since the majority of students at colleges and universities now fit into the non-traditional demographic, higher education faculty and administrators need to understand the needs of this community and know why they drop out of school and why they finish their education. This paper will discuss the many different factors that non-traditional students take into account when they make their decisions and how these relate to attrition and retention, and (b) the role that faculty and administrators must play in providing the necessary services for nontraditional students.

Review of Literature

Over the past few decades, college and university enrollment of the non-traditional student has increased markedly, and this trend has been projected to continue (Aslanian & Brickell, 1980; Padula, 1994; Thomas, 2001). While many non-traditional students have found great success, some non-traditional students have reported being less satisfied than their traditional counterparts with some parts of the university experience, specifically counseling and advising services (e.g., Badenhoop & Johansen, 1980; Kirk & Dorfman, 1983; Malin, Bray, Dougherty, & Skinner, 1980; Sands & Richardson, 1984).

In order to explore the experience of the non-traditional student at the university level, it is important to address the kinds of support they receive on campus. Much of the literature relevant to non-traditional students has failed to focus on these components of university life. Rather, the literature has focused on another component of the non-traditional student's life -- the benefits of external family and social supports that nontraditional students receive. This kind of support has been underscored in several research studies (e.g., Bauer & Mott, 1990), and at least three unique aspects of this important social support have been identified and explored (House, 1981):

(a) Practical kinds of tangible aid and help, including loans from family members and friends to help defray educational costs; (b) information and advice that helps an individual cope with the stresses raised by going to school; and (c) support that includes praise and validation that improved the non-traditional student's self-esteem and validates his or her choice to go back to school.

Padula (1994) suggested that several areas need to be explored in creating the best possible experience for non-traditional students: (a) services non-traditional students want and need from advisement and counseling services and (b) how integration of these services should be designed, keeping the student, his or her family, and the university community in mind. These kinds of supports have been show to be valuable to non-traditional students, and studies need to be conducted to further refine their experiences and needs.

According to a 2005 study, a traditional student is one who "entered higher education at the age of 18 straight from school or further education, [and] studied continuously and full time for either three or four years" (Laing, Kuo-Ming, and Robinson). One of the reasons these student see a high success rate is that they usually come from families who have also had experiences with higher education. As children in the families, the traditional student is influenced to pursue a college degree and more prepared to enter the college environment. Both traditional and non-traditional students are influenced by their families' experiences with higher education, and the effect varies based on the family's history (Laing et al. 2005).

One of the difficult challenges for non-tradition students is the transition from their regular life out in the world back into a school setting. Going straight from high school to a higher education setting, is an equivalent institution, eases the transition for traditional students. Traditional students have been attending school and living on the school calendar for most of their lives, continuously and intensively, whereas the non-traditional student may have left that environment 10, 20 or more years ago. For the non-traditional student, colleges and universities can be "isolating and" in ways that just aren't experienced by students going straight from, essentially, one school to another. (Bowl 2001). This does not mean that the challenge of transition cannot be overcome, or that non-traditional students cannot succeed. In fact, in some ways they are more prepared than their traditional counterparts because they have developed the life skills gained from holding jobs and raising families. In this way, traditional students are often the ones unprepared for college life. Many students' perceptions of higher education are skewed and based on stereotypical assumptions. These perceptions are typically based on their experiences in secondary education. Many believe that college will be moderately difficult academically, and extremely exciting socially (Laing 2005). Baker, McNeil, and Siryk (1985) address a concept called the "matriculant myth," which is that first year students' expectation of the university experience is much better than the actual experience they find when they arrive and jump into college life. When a student has a less pronounced version of the myth in his or her head, the adjustment to the college experience is easier. The myth has also been found to persist in transfer students as well as first year students (Buckley, 1971; Donato, 1973). As with any personal believe, there are variations in the intensity of the myth between individual students, but the variance does not appear to fall along gender lines. Men and women hold the myth equally (Baker, McNeil, and Siryk, 1985). Younger students also tend to assume that their teachers in college and the learning environment and expectations are similar to those they just left behind in high school. Too often this results in "many students (due in part to their previous educational experiences) will have entered higher education without having taken responsibility for their own learning" (Laing 2005:170).

Attrition is a complicated issue for any student, but for a non-traditional student, the issues are even more complex, especially for those who may be giving higher education a second chance after dropping out earlier in their lives. According to Noel (1985) there are several major themes that influence a non-traditional student's decision to drop out of school. They include academic boredom and uncertainty about what to study, limited and/or unrealistic expectations of the university experiences, transition/adjustment problems, being… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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